Informatics Research Methodologies
Lecturer's Self Review 2002-03

Alan Bundy


The IRM module ran for the first time this year, replacing the earlier AIRM and EARM modules. The main change was to cover the whole of Informatics, although a lot of the material was adapted from the earlier modules. The coursework followed the AIRM pattern of 4 paper reviews and a presentation, but the literature review was replaced with writing a grant proposal. Another significant change over AIRM was the dropping of tutorials and parallel presentation sessions, as a School economy measure.

Student Numbers

15 students were registered for the module, consisting of 5 UG4s, 8 MScs and 2 PhDs, although various other students sat in for parts of the module. The numbers were half those attending AIRM in 2000-01, which was a little disappointing, although it would have been hard to cope with more students in the absence of parallel presentation sessions. The MSc numbers were doubled from 2000-01, but UG4 numbers were significantly reduced. Due to a misunderstanding, CS4 students thought that they were ineligible, because the module was misleadingly classified as an AI4 one. This needs to be clarified for next year.

The students who attended performed very well. Since the module was aimed at students intending to (or doing) a PhD, such high standards are to be expected.

How the Module Went

There were 8 lectures in the first 4 weeks. These included 2 guest lectures by Helen Pain and one each by Perdita Stevens and Rob Proctor. In the absence of tutorials, it was necessary to mount an unscheduled session explaining the coursework. The remaining 7 slots were used for 13 student presentations in pairs. The registered PhDs did not do the coursework, including the presentation.

On the whole the module went well and seemed to be very well received by the students. This is reflected in the student rep's report, which identifies no major problems.

The lectures seem to be enjoyed and informed the subsequent coursework. The use of guest lectures again worked well.

Coursework was generally of very high quality, with most submissions earning A or B grades. The AIRM problems of finalising the timetable early enough to allow students adequate preparation time, was not repeated this year. I was especially happy with the quality of the grant proposals, since this coursework was an innovation this year. Several of the proposals had the potential for real submission after revisions. In these cases, with the students' permissions, I alerted potential principle investigators, but to the best of my knowledge, no proposals were submitted to a funding agency. The delivery of two student presentations in each slot worked well: students kept to time but were able to make significant presentations in the shorter slot. The student numbers fitted the available slots well. If numbers change significantly in future years then some rethinking will be needed.

The tutorials were missed. They provided an opportunity for further exploration of the lecture topics in a practical setting and set the groundwork for the coursework. I mounted an additional session on the coursework to compensate, but this did not totally solve the problem. I have applied for tutorials for 2003-04, but have not yet heard the outcome.

Plans for Next Year

If tutorials are granted to this module, then I will identify some tutors asap and provide some training before the module starts. There will also be meetings with the tutors during the term to detect problems and provide extra guidance. The tutorial topics needed to be reviewed to try to remove some of the repetition, to provide more support for preparation and to overcome the communication problems between students from different research areas. Better attendance and preparation needs to be encouraged. Tutor training might help here. We should consider requiring tutees to submit some record of preparation, although this would probably not be examinable and would involve the tutors in extra work to provide feedback.

If tutorials are not granted, then, if timetabling allows, I will schedule some additional sessions on the coursework, e.g. one each on the reviews, presentation and grant proposal.

A UG4 student on the module, Massimo Caporale, built an expert system for advising paper referees, ERA, for his project. I intend to use this for the IRM paper reviews. It is linked to the IRM web pages, has a GUI and produces a ps file ready for submission.

I would like to express my thanks to: the 3 guest lecturers who helped to make this module a success; to the student rep, Luke Teacy, for his work on his report and other feedback; Massimo Caporale and Stephen Potter (2nd supervisor) for ERA; and to Neil McGillivray, in the ITO, for being an ever present source of advice and help.

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